Washington Gerrymanders Faceoff Circle
Unlike game two, which required a miracle save from Holtby to prevent the Golden Knights from knotting the game, the third match of the Stanley Cup finals featured Washington carving control of the ice with surgical precision. Corsi numbers suggest that the Golden Knights drove possession, but every other metric points to complete dominance by the Capitals. One of the biggest shifts revolved around Washington’s dominance in the faceoff circle. The Caps won an impressive 63% of faceoffs in game three, compared to 48% in game one and 42% in the second match.
Another, lesser discussed benefit of playing on friendly ice includes the option of placing your stick down last in the faceoff circle. After getting torched in the first couple of games, Kuznetsov had a 71% faceoff win rate, Backstrom had a 61% faceoff rate and Eller won 59% of his draws. Incredibly, not a single Capitals skater was below 50%, including Oshie and Wilson, both of whom play winger positions. This remarkable turnaround at the faceoff circle forced the Golden Knights to chase the Capitals for most of the evening.
Credit goes to Vegas skaters for putting in the effort needed to turn a 37% faceoff rate into strong Corsi numbers, but the effectiveness of the Golden Knights attack was clearly blunted by the energy required to track down the puck for most of the evening. Instead of quick bursts through the neutral zone and a dangerous counterattack, Vegas were caught in the Washington swamp. This Capitals game plan was especially effective against the second line of the Golden Knights, which were played off the ice by Washington’s attack.
Capitals Win Defensive Landslide
If Washington continues this spectacular defensive style of hockey, there’s a good chance that the Golden Knights won’t be able to out-turtle the Capitals for the rest of this series. While an ultra-defensive style may not win popularity contests, defense wins championships in the NHL, an axiom repeated ad nauseum. Washington’s style was so conservative that they attempted fewer shots on goal than Vegas, despite winning 63% of faceoffs. In other words, after winning the puck, the Caps were content with strangling space instead of pushing the pace.
Once again, Washington outhit Vegas by a 38-31 margin, but the most remarkable stat from game three – other than faceoff percentage – was the disparity in blocks. The Capitals blocked 26 shots while the Golden Knights got in the way of only nine shots. These stats show a strong advantage in terms of Washington’s physicality. Washington outhits Vegas on a consistent basis and put their bodies on the line to make Braden Holtby’s night easy. The Capitals defense was so tight that Holtby created the Golden Knights only game three goal.
Washington maintains a high level of physical play, walking the line between legal hockey and the penalty box. The Caps gave the Golden Knights only a pair of power plays, while Vegas ceded four man advantages to Washington. Statistically, the Golden Knights won the special teams battle by killing more penalties, but Washington’s inability to score didn’t affect the end result. Instead, killing penalties and chasing the puck after faceoffs seemed to drain the normally boundless energy of Vegas.
Vegas Regains Home Ice Advantage
There’s no arguing that the Capitals were the dominant club on Saturday night, handing the Golden Knights their first back-to-back losses in more than a month. Pulling off two perfect defensive games in a row will be unlikely for the Caps, especially after adjustments made by Vegas coach Gallant, who won’t allow Haula, Perron and Neal to sputter to a -3 rating again.
Expect another low scoring match in the U.S. capitol this evening as Vegas evens the series at two games apiece. Wager on the Golden Knights moneyline (+105), which pays well as an underdog line. The over/under will be a bit more expensive this evening because of strict defensive play, but you should still consider the UNDER (5.5, -125) as the better bet for game four of the Stanley Cup finals.